Once a year, we get the opportunity to honor people who have made significant contributions to the sport of hockey, and once a year the justified meltdown and outrage over the exclusion of Sergei Zubov comes out. Every fan thinks their favorite players are snubs, but not all players are among the top five at their position in a generation. The snubbing of Zubov has to stop.
We watch a league that values numbers, but the numbers aren’t good enough for Zubov because he couldn’t beat out Nicklas Lidstrom or Canadian good ol’ boys for notoriety. Zubov was a chain-smoking Russian in the first generation after the Berlin Wall fell and the collapse of the Soviet Union. He was always going to be behind the 8-ball.
In November of 2015, Corey Masisak wrote this for The Sporting News.
The standard for Soviet/Russian players to gain entrance to the Hall has been far, far higher than for NHL players. No players from the country were inducted until Vladislav Tretiak in 1989, and a second didn’t join him until Slava Fetisov in 2001. Tarasov was inducted in 1974. The next Soviet/Russian builder enshrined will be the second.
You could expand this to say the Hall of Fame has a problem recognizing people who come from non-NHL settings. Women, WHA players and builders, and non-North Americans have serious trouble breaking through. That seems to be carrying over. Since that writing the NHL has added Sergei Makarov to the list, but the full list of Russians in the hall of fame is still in the single digits.
Any number of sources can show all of the numbers again for why Zubov deserves to be enshrined. Dave Lozo at Vice has done it, Erin Bolen at DefendingBigD has done it, Craig Custance has done it for ESPN, and there are probably a million others. In fact, I’ve never seen anyone of note seriously argue otherwise.
We’re at the point now where anecdotal evidence starts to pour in as observers are exasperated by this continued snub.
From Erin’s article:
From living legend Jaromir Jagr:
I could go on and on with Zubov anecdotes, but what more can be said than what Jagr said?
If you watched Zubov you saw a player who could control a game from his own end. He made everyone around him better. Where would Darryl Sydor have been without him? We saw how Matt Niskanen’s early career looked after Zubov left. The man was a force and you can make a very strong case that the Stars don’t have a prayer of winning the Stanley Cup without him. No one else on those teams could have quarterbacked the powerplay the way he did.
And yet, for the foreseeable future, this discussion will continue to be had. Phil Housley and Chris Pronger made it in 2015. Rob Blake is inexplicably in. Sergei Gonchar’s time is coming up soon. The Hall of Fame limit of only four players a year is going to continue to restrict how many can make it. After a certain point, Zubov is going to drop out of sight and out of mind. It will ultimately be criminal if such a talented and significant player ends up not getting the final recognition he deserves, but after a career of being snubbed for major recognition it almost seems fitting.